Sanda Bland was found dead in her Texas jail cell Monday following her arrest before the weekend. Officials said she hanged herself, but her family doesn't believe she would do such a thing. Photo: Sandra Bland/Facebook
HEMPSTEAD, Texas, July 21 (UPI) -- Elected officials in Texas promised transparency in the investigation into the jail cell death of Sandra Bland on Tuesday, the same day law enforcement released videos of her arrest and from the jail on the day she died.
Bland, 28, was reportedly found hanging by a plastic trash bag in her jail cell July 13, three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas. She was charged with assault on a public servant after allegedly becoming combative with Trooper Brian Encinia.
The dashboard video footage from Encinia's cruiser during the time of Bland's arrest was released to the public by the Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday. The expletive-laden video and audio recordings depict the entire incident, though the moment when Encinia says Bland kicked him cannot be seen.
Encinia pulled Bland over for failure to signal a lane change as she was driving near Prairie View A&M Univeristy, where she had just accepted a job after moving from her home state of Illinois. She's also a graduate of the school.
After checking Bland's license in his cruiser, Encinia returned to the woman's car and asked her if she's OK because she seemed "very irritated." She explained she was irritated because she felt the traffic stop was unwarranted. Encinia also asks Bland to put out her cigarette, which she refuses to do.
From there, things escalate. Encinia asks, then demands Bland step out of her vehicle, but she refuses. He threatens her with a Taser gun, saying "I'm going to drag you out of here ... I will light you up." He also declines to explain to her why he's arresting her.
The two move off out of view of the dashboard camera, but Encinia can be heard ordering Bland to put her hands behind her back and to stay still. At some point, Bland is restrained on the ground, something that can be seen in video footage taken by a bystander.
She can be heard yelling out, "You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can't even hear."
In his affidavit from the arrest, Encinia said Bland kicked him in the shin and swung her elbows at him. Bland's family, who saw the dashboard video Monday, said it doesn't appear to show the woman attacking the officer in any way.
The Texas Department of Public Safety put Encinia on desk duty earlier this week because of "violations" that took place during the arrest, though the exact nature of the violations was never made public.
During a news conference Tuesday, Texas state Sen. Royce West said that from what he saw in the footage, Bland should still be alive today. He and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick both promised transparency as the Texas Rangers -- a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety -- and the FBI investigate Bland's death.
"We will be patient to allow the process to work itself out -- but it will be transparent," West said. "We're going to be watching every step of the way to make sure that the job will be done correctly."
In addition to the dashboard video, surveillance footage from the hallway outside Bland's jail cell at the Waller County jail was also released Tuesday. The footage appears to show the moment a guard noticed Bland reportedly hanging in her jail cell and the subsequent minutes as paramedics arrived.
A log book from the morning of her death says Bland told guards she was "good" at 7:05 a.m. Fifty minutes later she asked how to make a phone call from her cell, though she never made a call. She was found dead about an hour after that. Investigators say the jail video doesn't show anyone going into her cell before her death.
"Seeing that there has been a great scrutiny by outside sources into the cause of Ms. Bland's death, I want to make clear that the death of Ms. Bland was a tragic incident, not one of criminal intent," said Capt. Brian Cantrell of the Waller County Sheriff's Department.
A medical examiner ruled Bland's death a suicide, but her family says she would never kill herself. The Waller County district attorney's office said Monday it is treating the case as a murder investigation.
District Attorney Elton Mathis said the case will be referred to a grand jury after the investigation is complete.
"There's a rush to judgment too often in America," Patrick said. "Here in Texas I can tell you we believe in total transparency and we will find the truth, whatever it is."
The log released by the sheriff's office indicates that at 7:05 a.m. on July 13, Bland appeared in good health, telling a jailer, "I am good." At 7:55 a.m., Bland used her intercom to ask how to make a call from the phone in her cell. But no call is ever made. Her body was found about an hour later.